North Staffs Walsingham Association, Pilgrimage to The National Shrine, 20-23 March 2024

After Holy Mass on the Wednesday morning 33 of us set off on our journey to the National Shrine leaving behind the hustle and bustle of our lives in the Potteries adjoining towns and beyond to seek peace and solitude through prayerful dialogue with Our Blessed Lady and her Son. Each of us brought with us the prayer requests of our own families, friends and fellow parishioners.

In this Year of Prayer in preparation for the Jubilee Year in 2025 how fitting that we travelled as pilgrims and placed our trust in Our Holy Mother to help and guide us in discerning our part. As Pope Francis says in his jubilee prayer "May the grace of the Jubilee reawaken in us, Pilgrims of Hope, a yearning for the treasures of Heaven".

As we passed the National Shrine on our way to Elmham House we were hopeful that our planned procession the following day, to walk The Holy Mile, would be rain free!

We were met with a very warm welcome from the staff there and our very own Chaplain, Fr Julian Green, who had prepared a wonderful prayer-filled handbook for use at our Liturgies that included daily Lauds and Vespers, a Marian Holy Hour, Healing Service, and Stations of the Cross that took place in the parish church. Naturally these were in addition to Holy Mass at The Shrine, Exposition, Rosary, Benediction, Divine Mercy Chaplet, along with the opportunity to spend time in the Slipper Chapel, around the Shrine and go to Confession.

We were all so pleased to have this time together and also to have the opportunity to socialise over lovely meals prepared and served by the very helpful staff at Elmham House. Indeed the comments found later in this article clearly state how we felt about all staff that we encountered whether at The Shrine, the parish church or Elmham House. We couldn't have been more looked after. 

As part of our very prayer filled day on Thursday, our retiring Chairman, John Coates, had been able to arrange for Fr Billing, the Rector of the National Shrine, to come to talk to us about his Vision and plans in the parish church prior to Vespers. He gave us an insight of his first few months gaining an understanding of how all aspects of the Shrine function. He emphasised the following;

“Meanwhile, our staff, and the locals here, should have begun to understand, by now, how seriously I take my duty to ensure that:

 - our Shrine is known as a place of welcome, peace, prayer, and reconciliation, and as a centre of liturgical beauty and good preaching, mindful of our high-profile online presence.

- we take great care in the cleaning and maintenance of our chapels, facilities, and grounds – ‘making our Shrine shine.’

- we make incremental physical improvements in our Shrine chapels, facilities, and grounds in the short and medium term, and that our fundraising is focused accordingly.

- the Shrine is administered by decisive leadership, sound governance, timely preparation, as well as fiscal discipline and a careful stewardship of our resources.”

It was also delightful that he was able to join us for our evening meal and to take the time to go round to each table for a chat. We assured him of our prayers for the success of his ventures.

Following Lauds, breakfast and Mass in the Parish Church on Friday morning a more relaxed programme enabled pilgrims to consider a variety of options be it spending time at the Shrine, visiting the Anglican Shrine or Priory ruins staying around the village or visiting 'Wells by the Sea'. All returned for the evening meal, Stations of the Cross, and most participated in a light-hearted quiz to end the day before returning to our welcoming beds!

Saturday had arrived all too quickly and following Lauds, breakfast and Mass, again in the parish church, we said our goodbyes and made our way home. During the journey pilgrims were invited to write a short comment about their experiences. Here are a few of the 28 reflections received. We hope that you take the time to read them and consider making your own visit to Walsingham whether it be as part of your Diocesan day pilgrimage, with a group, your family, friends or indeed by yourself.

"It is an honour to visit our beautiful Shrine to Our Lady and so peaceful 'Our Hidden Gem'. The staff here have made us so welcome 'more than ever' and so has the friendship of the people we have come with. We love you, Our Lady."

"I've had a wonderful few days. Very uplifting and peaceful. Feeling great!"

"It was nice to take time out for the quiet reflections led by Fr Julian. The camaraderie of the other pilgrims and the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff enhanced the pilgrimage."

"Coming to Walsingham is a wonderful, peaceful experience that everyone should have the great pleasure to witness. We were well cared for in every way. Fr Billing found the time to greet all in person. Beautiful! Hope to return many times”

"Marvellous place, so holy. Too short a stay. Hotel and food excellent. Do come and experience it."

"So inspiring, spiritual and beautiful. A little touch of Heaven on Earth. Ave Maria!"

"Coming back to Walsingham is like coming home, peaceful and welcoming. The staff at Elmham house greet us like old friends."

"We will always remember the peace of the Shrine, the welcome of the Clergy and staff and the helpfulness of the staff at Elmham house."

"Spiritual fulfilment, excellent and amiable companionship in idyllic surroundings have been mine for four days.”

"I had a wonderful stay. The whole 4 days more than I expected. Mass- Prayers- People and stay. Thank you all for making us so welcome. God bless."

Dear friends, a spiritual pilgrimage has been just so special. To belong to a friendly, kind caring group of people coming together to celebrate Holy Mass and all the graces and blessings that Our Lady sends us. A very special mention to all the Staff at Elmham house who looked after us with kindness, and caring. Nothing was too much trouble, catered for all our needs. Spotless accommodation, food delicious. 
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us."

"The peace and tranquillity of Walsingham is a memory to be treasured for another year”

"To be able to visit our National Shrine is a privilege as is to spend time with Our Lady of Walsingham. The welcome from the staff was outstanding and so was the service we received. We will carry home with us the memories of time spent with friends and importantly the graces that we've received."

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